Peatlands, Which Can Help Fight Against Climate Change, Face Many Threats: Improved science could spur conservation, with myriad benefits to nature and people

Known by many names—from fen, bog, and marsh to mire and swamp—peatlands are a type of wetland that plays important roles in the environment, including absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and supporting an abundant array of wildlife. They also provide numerous benefits to people, including drinking water and food as well as recreational and educational activities. But many of these benefits may not be around for long, because peatlands around the world face myriad threats to their existence.

That’s why The Pew Charitable Trusts is working to improve peatland conservation in many regions of the world, in part by seeking to fill gaps in research and advocate for strong policies to safeguard these ecosystems. Here, we delve into what exactly peatlands are, how they support wildlife and people, and what lies ahead for peatland conservation science.

An introduction to peatlands

Although there is no universally accepted definition of peatlands, scientists most often describe them as a class of wetland with a naturally accumulated layer of dead plant material, or peat, at the surface. Peat is formed when organic matter accumulates faster than it decomposes because of a lack of oxygen in waterlogged matter. In areas where peat accumulation has continued over long periods of time, the land may have layers of peat that are meters thick. Although all peatlands are wetlands, not all wetlands are peatlands.

Graphic courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts

There are two major types of peatlands: bogs and fens. Bogs are fed by precipitation, whereas fens receive water and nutrients from other sources, such as groundwater. Because peat can accumulate only in perennially waterlogged places, the distribution and characteristics of peatlands largely depends on local conditions, such as weather and freshwater inputs. Peatlands are found in and near fresh and brackish waters, and in coastal and inland areas around the world. As a result of their broad geographic coverage and highly diverse characteristics, peatlands are often unrecognized and overlooked by governments and policymakers.

Peatlands occupy only about 3% of the global land area but contain about 25% of the global soil carbon stock—twice the amount found in the world’s forests. These wetlands store older carbon in their peat layer for the long term, and in vegetation for the shorter term. Peatlands are also home to rich biodiversity, including a wide range of threatened and endemic species, and provide important places for recreational, spiritual, inspirational, educational, and other cultural activities for communities. In addition, peatlands support livelihoods with activities such as animal grazing. They also help to control flooding and filter sediments, pollutants, and other nutrients from sources of drinking water.

Threats and impacts

Scientists estimate that 15% of global peatlands have been drained for land development and agriculture, resulting in significant greenhouse gas emissions through release of the carbon that those wetlands were storing over long periods of time. The world’s carbon-rich soils, mostly located in boreal areas, are disproportionally drained in tropical regions—an action that accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the draining of temperate and boreal peatlands. Notably, half of the world’s known peatland emissions come from Southeast Asia, where high rates of deforestation and drainage and high temperatures speed the decomposition. Recent research estimates that current greenhouse gas emissions from drained or burned peatlands globally account for 5% of all emissions caused by human activity.

Graphic courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts

Importance of global peatland conservation

To date, most peatland conservation has used one or more of the following approaches: conserving intact peatlands, rewetting drained peatlands, applying climate-responsible peatland management, or implementing adaptive management where rewetting is not possible.

Scientific studies have estimated that peatland restoration would prevent the release of 394 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, an amount slightly larger than Australia’s annual emissions. But altering drainage patterns and local hydrogeography can be costly, so key industries or communities benefiting from extractive uses of peatlands may push back on restoration efforts. In addition to restoration, preventing peatlands from being disturbed could also yield substantial climate benefits and may be more economically feasible than restoration in some regions or under specific circumstances. This also highlights the need for equitable access to creative financing solutions so that communities can fund these conservation and restoration activities.

How science can help to improve peatland conservation

Despite the important role that peatlands play in sequestering carbon, the scientific community is not currently able to factor them into future climate models and projections, largely because of gaps in data and research. To address these data gaps, additional research is needed to better understand:

  1. The status and extent of global peatlands, particularly in data-poor regions.
  2. Peatland contribution to greenhouse gas fluxes.
  3. The impacts of climate change and other human-made stressors on peatlands.
  4. The costs and benefits of peatland conservation and restoration to deliver ecosystem services, such as those mentioned above, to people.

The development of standardized approaches to map and quantify peatlands should enable natural resource managers to adapt conservation approaches to different peatland types and locations. Similarly, governments and other key stakeholders can use improved baseline information to track peatland restoration, which may even play a role in verification standards as carbon markets for financing peatland conservation efforts are developed.

Peter Edwards is an officer and Kathrynlynn Theuerkauf is a principal associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conservation science project.

This article was originally published by the Pew Charitable Trust.

Learn more about Peatlands by visiting U.S. Nature4Climate’s Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions Science.

Carbon Captured by Coastal & Ocean Habitats Can Advance States’ Climate Goals: Experts discuss growing ‘blue carbon’ data and resources, and their potential role in policy

Coastal wetlands support a huge range of life on Earth and provide the major benefit of capturing and storing carbon—so-called “blue carbon.” Conserving and restoring these ecosystems can contribute to broader efforts that combat climate change.

Because states in the U.S. largely set the policies governing their coastlines, they have opportunities to prominently incorporate blue carbon into their climate policies and goals. And because officials increasingly realize the role quality data plays in determining how much blue carbon is contained in their coastal habitats, including salt marshes, forested tidal wetlands, mangroves, and seagrass beds, The Pew Charitable Trusts recently hosted a webinar that brought together experts from two organizations focused on collecting blue carbon data and making it readily available.

The discussion with representatives of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) and the Pacific Northwest Blue Carbon Working Group (PNW Blue Carbon Working Group) detailed information and tools that can help states better understand their blue carbon resources and how officials can enhance and improve their states’ data.

Recognizing the role that blue carbon can play in advancing climate goals, Pew began working on the issue in 2018, engaging with agencies, researchers, and stakeholders in multiple countries and states. Jennifer Browning, director of Pew’s Conserving Marine Life in the U.S. project, told the webinar’s attendees, “As states continue to integrate blue carbon into state climate strategies over the coming year, we see an opportunity to help states come together to address common issues and challenges around developing blue carbon inventories, setting goals, and developing management strategies.” 

Browning specifically noted work underway in three states: Oregon, which is the first state to incorporate blue carbon in a proposed carbon sequestration and storage goal; California, which also is enacting policies to incorporate blue carbon into management of its natural and working lands; and North Carolina, which is accounting for the carbon sequestration and storage ability of its seagrass habitats, the first state to do so.

Browning also announced that this webinar is part of a forum Pew is building for states interested in incorporating coastal blue carbon into their climate mitigation goals and plans. The network plans to share information, create and disseminate scientifically sound materials, and provide experts and state policy officials with opportunities to discuss the latest in blue carbon science and application in the state policy arena.

Research led to states’ “blue carbon report card”

A major focus of the webinar was Pew-funded research conducted by SERC, which curates the Coastal Carbon Atlas, a central digital compilation of global blue carbon data.

“States are really the engine for a lot of the blue carbon science policy that’s developing in the United States, and trying to support state level actions is an important goal,” Pat Megonigal, SERC’s associate director for research, said during the webinar.

Jim Holmquist and Jaxine Wolfe of SERC developed four metrics to assess data in the Coastal Carbon Atlas for coastal states:

  • Data quantity (the number of “cores”—or soil samples—relative to coastal wetlands area in the state).
  • Data quality (how valuable the cores are in assessing blue carbon).
  • Spatial representation (how well dispersed sampling efforts are across the state’s coastal wetlands).
  • Habitat representation (how well habitats sampled match their estimated area in the state).

SERC then developed a “blue carbon report card” that provides a composite score for each state across all four metrics, summarized in the map below. For rankings by individual categories, see the State-Level Blue Carbon Data Report Card in the Coastal Carbon Research Coordination Network Blue Carbon Inventory report.

The highest-scoring states were Massachusetts, Oregon, Louisiana, and Washington, Wolfe, SERC’s research technician, told webinar attendees, with Delaware and California also rating highly. All of those states generally shared three traits: local investment in sufficient, high-quality data; research projects launched in the past five years in response to emerging blue carbon science; and researchers who actively collaborate with the Coastal Carbon Research Coordination Network, a SERC-sponsored consortium of biochemists, ecologists, social scientists, and managers working to expand coastal carbon science.

The research determined that at least five states had room for improvement in their data collection and/or representation: Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

“Collaboration between researchers and networks to increase data access is really important,” Wolfe said. This includes collaboration to synthesize existing data, publishing new data to increase access to data, and ensuring data is accessible and well documented, she added.

Lack of data may drive low ratings

The reasons states didn’t fare well on the report card could largely be because relevant data isn’t yet publicly available, Wolfe said. “Don’t be discouraged if your state is not performing the way you’d expect. These findings provide a baseline to enable targeted sampling efforts, and measure future progress.” Blue carbon scientists hope the inventory encourages public data sharing, which will improve results for all states, she added.

Also presenting on the webinar was Chris Janousek, an assistant professor at Oregon State University and a member of the PNW Blue Carbon Working Group, which helped provide data for the SERC analysis. Established in 2014, the group’s work now spans from northern California to British Columbia.

Birds take flight off the marshes of the Nature Conservancy’s 4,122-acre Port Susan Bay Preserve in Washington. Credit Bridget Bresaw/TNC

In a recent study of blue carbon stocks in the Pacific Northwest, the working group found that seagrass meadows held the smallest amount of carbon stocks, marshes offered intermediate levels, and forested tidal wetlands—including conifers such as the Sitka spruce and other trees that tolerate brackish conditions—stored considerable amounts of carbon. Oregon’s forested tidal wetlands—which support fisheries, improve water quality, and protect communities from flooding—store more carbon per acre than almost any ecosystem on Earth, but have declined 95% from historic levels.

“The high carbon stocks they hold provides additional motivation for thinking about their restoration and conservation,” Janousek said. The group has now created a database with data from Mexico to Alaska to help researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

States should share their data

Both SERC and the PNW Blue Carbon Working Group stressed that they can help states understand blue carbon and how conserving and restoring coastal habitats can advance climate goals. They encouraged researchers to contribute to the expanding understanding of blue carbon by sharing their data for integration into SERC’s Coastal Carbon Atlas.

“We work with a lot of people’s data,” said Holmquist, a SERC research associate. “So, if you’re shy about your data being messy or poorly formatted, don’t be shy in front of us.” In addition, SERC is working to develop interactive tools to help users better interpret the atlas’ data.

To learn more, state officials and researchers can contact SERC and the PNW Blue Carbon Working Group.

Pew strongly supports this work because better understanding of coastal habitats’ blue carbon contributions will bolster science-based policies and management, which in turn can advance climate mitigation, adaptation, and biodiversity.

Alex Clayton is a principal associate and Sylvia Troost is a senior manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts. They work on incorporating blue carbon into climate action plans for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Conserving Marine Life in the United States project.

This article was originally published by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Conserving Marine Life in the United States Project. Read the original article here.

U.S. Nature4Climate recently convened an expert panel to discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding blue carbon as a climate mitigation strategy, including strategies to protect and restore coastal wetlands. Read a synopsis of that conversation in our Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions Science.

Blue Carbon: Restoring Coastal Wetlands in Southern California

Conservationists often think of forests as the only suitable ecosystems for natural carbon storage, but thanks to an emerging body of new scientific research, we have learned how blue carbon ecosystems such as salt marshes, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests have real carbon sequestration and storage superpowers. These often overlooked and threatened ecosystems are now considered vital to helping adapt to and mitigate climate change. 

Blue carbon ecosystems are exceptional at storing carbon because they are more effective at burying plants that have settled in the soil. When these plants get buried they do not decompose, which keeps the carbon that is stored in them from being released back into the atmosphere. Coastal blue carbon ecosystems also help make coastal communities more resilient to flooding, provide habitat for wildlife and opportunities for recreation.

The WILDCOAST team restoring coastlines near San Diego. Photo credit: Alita Films

Mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes have been storing carbon for millenia. They have amassed so much stored carbon already and have the potential to store so much more, making the conservation, restoration, and management of these ecosystems critical in the fight against climate change. Unfortunately, they also risk emitting that stored carbon back into the atmosphere if they are degraded by rising sea levels and encroaching development. 

That is why WILDCOAST, an international conservation team, is helping to conserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems. In California, we are collaborating with researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the amount of carbon stored in local blue carbon ecosystems. In Mexico we are planting tens of thousands of mangroves in partnership with local fishing communities. By conserving and restoring these ecosystems, we ensure that the carbon stored in them remains in the ground for years to come, and that they will have even greater potential to store more carbon in the ongoing fight against climate change. 

In Southern California, WILDCOAST is working with organizations such as the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation to restore some of San Diego County’s iconic coastal wetlands. Community members are helping us to restore these lagoons by removing invasive species of plants, replanting native species, and maintaining trails so that visitors and local residents can respectfully enjoy these natural wonders. 

Photo credit: Alita Films

Many of our volunteers in San Diego County are from Indigenous communities that have been stewarding the coast for time immemorial. These communities have been displaced and disconnected from their coastal spaces.

To this end, WILDCOAST recently launched the Coastal Leaders internship for Indigenous Youth, a year-long opportunity for students from local Indigenous communities to gain hands-on experience in conservation, including blue carbon ecosystem conservation and restoration.

By involving local communities in blue carbon ecosystem protection and restoration we can cultivate the next generation of ocean stewards, thereby ensuring these ecosystems and our planet continue to thrive for generations to come. 

Angela Kemsley is the Conservation Director and Carlos Callado is the California Conservation Coordinator of WILDCOAST. 

WILDCOAST is an international team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems, and addresses climate change through natural solutions

Conservation is Climate Action

Photo Credit: Preston Keres/USDA

For a challenge as great as climate change, there are no silver bullets. Right now, much of the conversation on solutions focuses on curbing greenhouse gas emissions through investment in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and low-carbon construction. These are vital strategies for addressing climate change, but the critical role conservation of natural and working lands plays in mitigating climate change is often left out of this discussion.

There are many benefits associated with land and water conservation. Taking action to protect and restore our forests, grasslands and coastal wetlands provides habitat for wildlife, improves water quality, and makes communities more resilient to extreme weather and storm events – all while creating jobs. At the same time, conservation is an important climate change strategy. Forests, grasslands and coastal wetlands draw in and store carbon from the atmosphere. Conservation actions can increase how much these ecosystems take in and prevent the carbon they already store from being released.

U.S. Nature4Climate is highlighting conservation success stories that illustrate how conservation action is climate action. Conservation is a climate strategy that can take place everywhere – from America’s vast sagebrush steppe to New England’s lush forests. We will highlight the benefits of conserving coastal ecosystems, like salt marshes and forested tidal wetlands. These “blue carbon” ecosystems have the potential to store up to 25 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, while also providing habitat for fish and other marine species, stabilizing shorelines, and supporting recreational and commercial fishing.

Additions to and sustainable management of America’s national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges are a key part of our conservation and climate action story too. For instance, the Angeles National Forests provides clean water, access to nature, and jobs. At the same time, the area’s shrublands and forests store carbon equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road for a year .

We will also recognize the important role that private landowners can play in our efforts to conserve lands and waters. Farmers and ranchers who sustainably manage their lands provide habitat for wildlife and sequester carbon. For example, rancher John Reed worked with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place a conservation easement on his land – protecting important native grassland from development.

We will highlight the leadership provided by Indigenous communities in actualizing the climate benefits of conservation action. For example, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation implemented a climate change strategy on reservation land that helps protect ecologically important whitebark pine trees. In addition to capturing carbon, these trees provide food sources for grizzly bears and help protect water supplies to surrounding communities. Through a combination of tree planting and controlled burns, the Salish and Kootenai Tribes are helping whitebark pines survive and thrive.

Even urban parks have a role to play and can sequester nearly as much carbon per acre as tropical rainforests. Any individual park’s impact may be small, but with more than 20,000 city parks nationwide, the collective benefits add up. Meanwhile, innovative conservation projects – like Atlanta’s recently completed Cook Park – support urban infrastructure to manage water during storm surges, provide shade to cool urban heat islands, and ensure more equitable access to nature and recreation for millions of people

So yes, conservation is climate action.

Please visit our new Conservation IS Climate Action campaign page, and the U.S. Nature4Climate blog to learn more about the powerful role conservation can play in addressing climate change.

Andy Jackson is a Research & Communications Fellow at U.S. Nature4Climate.

Salt Marsh Conservation on the Atlantic Coast – Where Blue Carbon Supports Diverse Partnership

Queen Quet gazes into the marsh surrounding her hometown of St. Helena Island in South Carolina. Photo Credit: Kumar L. Goodwine-Kennedy Geechee Sea Island Coalition

Between land and sea lie the ecological guardians of the coast—salt marshes. 

Their grassy and sinuous channels fill and drain with saltwater as the tides ebb and flow, providing food, shelter, and nursery grounds for birds, fish, and other wildlife, ranging from dolphins and otters to snails and turtles.  

Healthy salt marshes cleanse the water by filtering runoff, and help other ecosystems, including oyster reefs and seagrass beds, thrive. And conserving salt marsh helps people, too. Marshes can reduce erosion, stabilize shorelines, and protect against storm surge. Together with other coastal wetlands, these ecosystems provide the equivalent of $23.2 billion in storm damage protection per year. Species that are crucial to recreational and commercial fishing, hunting, birding, and other activities rely on this important habitat as well.

Salt marsh plays a less obvious, but major role in helping moderate the effects of climate change. These grassy expanses sequester and store carbon at a rate 10 times that of mature tropical forests. If left undisturbed, the carbon captured and retained by ocean and coastal ecosystems – collectively known as blue carbon – can remain stored for centuries to millennia.

Conservation and protection of salt marshes and adjacent lands is important to maintaining shorelines, protecting communities, keeping marine ecosystems healthy, and helping coastal economies thrive. Communities can and should work together to develop plans that restore, protect, and allow these vital habitats to adapt to changing environmental conditions. It’s also critical for such programs to engage local stakeholders and support frontline communities that experience disproportionate social and economic impacts from the climate crisis.

Among those working to protect salt marsh are the Gullah/Geechee – descendants of enslaved Africans who have worked together for generations to protect their lands, waters, history, and culture. These estimated 1 million people inhabit the Sea Islands and coastal areas stretching from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, and 35 miles inland. Since the times of slavery, the Gullah/Geechee people, who hail from numerous African ethnic groups and built some of the richest plantations in the South, were informally considered “a nation within a nation” with their own language, crafts, and traditions. 

In 2000, members of the Gullah/Geechee community formally established their nation and chose computer scientist and South Carolina native Marquetta L. Goodwine as chieftess and head of state. Known as Queen Quet, she has gained worldwide recognition for her community and worked to protect its lands and waters. Now she’s joining a major new project aimed at conserving salt marsh—the grasslands that flood and drain with the tides and provide vital habitat for wildlife ranging from fish to birds. 

Photo credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC

The project, known as the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative, was initiated by The Pew Charitable Trusts and formally launched in May with the support of the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability. This work brings together federal, state, and local governments, military officials, and community leaders such as Queen Quet, who recognize the habitat’s ability to help protect shorelines against flooding and storm surge. The initiative aims to conserve about a million acres of marsh stretching from North Carolina to north Florida, an area that is home to installations for every branch of the military.  

In the coming months, initiative leaders will begin hashing out a plan designed to help communities and the military better prepare for the future through coordinated transportation and development plans, targeted restoration projects, and conservation of lands adjacent to marshes, allowing the tidal wetlands to move as sea levels rise. 

This interview with Queen Quet, originally conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why is salt marsh important to the Gullah/Geechee people? 

A: The waterways are sacred to us and provide our food. Every native Gullah/Geechee grew up breathing in the smell of pluff mud as we proceeded out to get the family meals of fish, shrimp, oysters, clams, and blue crabs. In the soil we grow staples of the Gullah/Geechee diet, including rice and vegetables. The salt marsh is not something that we simply go through or to; it’s part of our family, too. Our lives depend on it.

Q: What are your biggest concerns for the habitat? 

A: We’ve seen this area change over the decades as the ocean acidifies, bridges are built, newcomers arrive, and overbuilding infringes on our islands and salt marsh. The pilings used to invade the salt marsh with private docks feel like stakes being hammered into the heart of those of us from this coastline, because de land da we famlee and de wata da we bloodline (the land is our family and the water is our bloodline).

Q: What changes are you seeing in the salt marsh? 

A: The continued negative impacts to our coastline due to climate change have caused visible harm to the salt marsh to the extent that we had to begin replanting the spartina grass (the main vegetation found in salt marsh) when we replant oyster shells to create new oyster beds. Combating sea level rise and protecting the maritime forest from eroding are some of the ecological and environmental sustainability actions that the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition and the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association have been a part of for decades. Initially, the rapid erosion we saw appeared to be connected to flash floods and hurricanes, but over time, we had to learn terms that do not exist in the Gullah language—such as “sea level rise.”

Q: What would happen to your nation if you lost significant portions of salt marsh habitat? 

A: The loss of the salt marsh would be the death of the fisheries that I grew up traversing with my family via the bateau (flat-bottom wooden boats) that we make traditionally by hand. It would be the erasure of the memories of seeing these sacred and spiritually rejuvenating spaces. Without being able to nourish our souls and our bodies via the waterways and estuaries that are our salt marsh areas, Gullah/Geechee people wouldn’t thrive and our culture wouldn’t survive. So the life of the salt marsh is inextricably tied to our cultural continuation.

Q: How do the Gullah/Geechee people want to see salt marsh conserved? 

A: The Gullah/Geechee Nation created a sustainability plan in 2010 that includes a special ocean action section. We’re expanding the plan to include a specific section on the salt marsh, as we enter into new initiatives to prevent litter and debris from entering the area and as we work to educate people more about the life that exists between what to many simply look like blades of grass covered by water a few times a day. We’re proud to work with global partners via the United Nations to protect our environment and continue our cultural heritage. 

Q: Can you say more about this work with the United Nations? 

A: We’re working on the United Nations sustainable development goals and due to that effort, we’ve been supporting the United States’ and South Carolina’s 30 by 30 plans to conserve 30% of the waterways and 30% of the land by the year 2030. We would want special emphasis to be placed on the salt marsh and the ocean in the implementation aspects of these plans. That would allow the salt marsh to not only be conserved but would allow it to naturally be replenished.

Q: What do you hope for the new South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative?

A: The initiative is a perfect fit for the Gullah/Geechee Nation! It suits us like a custom-made garment or a personally crafted vessel that will finally allow us to get other folks to navigate our coast with us in a way that is in harmony with our cultural traditions. I’m looking forward to bringing Gullah/Geechee traditional knowledge into the planning process, but even more than that, I’m looking forward to putting on my hip boots and stepping out into the marsh with my Gullah/Geechee famlee.  

As one of our Gullah/Geechee proverbs goes, “De wata bring we and de wata gwine tek we bak” (“The water brings to us and the water will take us back”). I pray that this initiative allows us to take the salt marsh back to being healthy while also educating the next generation of Gullah/Geechee coastal stewards to continue the effort in the future. We intend to have many more generations of our people along this shore just beyond the marsh who will continue to walk to the shoreline to nourish their bodies, minds, and souls. Tenk GAWD fa de Gullah/Geechee coast!


To learn more about Pew Charitable Trusts work with the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative, visit:

Oregon Climate Plan Is First in U.S. to Account for ‘Blue Carbon’ Benefits of Coastal Habitats

Danger Point Marsh in Oregon’s South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is home to numerous wetland research projects, including studies that allow scientists to estimate rates of carbon storage in the region’s tidal wetlands. Photo Credit: Craig Cornu.

Oregon’s estuaries, where rivers meet the sea, are home to forested tidal wetlands, ecosystems that store more carbon by area than almost any other type of wetland in the world. And for the first time, Oregon may begin accounting for and utilizing this benefit to help track and reduce the state’s carbon footprint. 

On August 4, the Oregon Global Warming Commission adopted a proposal to harness the potential of the state’s forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands—known collectively as “natural and working lands”—to help Oregon achieve its goals for reducing greenhouse gases. The natural and working lands plan includes one of the nation’s first strategies that explicitly accounts for the carbon sequestration powers of coastal habitats, broadly referred to as “blue carbon.” The plan now goes to Governor Kate Brown and legislators for implementation.   

Oregon’s blue carbon habitats, which include marshes, eelgrass beds, scrub-shrub wetlands, and forested tidal wetlands, are comparable to the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests in terms of how much carbon they can store per acre. Because they take more carbon out of the atmosphere than they release, these ecosystems are known as “carbon sinks” and can play an important role in efforts to slow climate change, especially if they’re protected or, where needed, restored. These areas also protect coastal communities from sea level rise, flooding, and erosion; improve water quality; provide vital habitat for salmon and other Pacific Northwest species; and help reduce ocean acidification in nearby waters. 

The commission’s proposal includes a goal for increasing sequestration in Oregon’s landscapes, including coastal wetlands. The commission also recommended investments, programs, and policies that the state should advance to increase natural carbon storage, including development of a blue carbon plan aimed at protecting and restoring coastal habitats.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, working with the Pacific Northwest Blue Carbon Working GroupSilvestrum Climate Associates, and the Oregon Coastal Management Program (part of the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development), supported the development of a first-generation blue carbon greenhouse gas inventory, made recommendations for improving the inventory, and contributed to the strategies included in the proposal.  

With the adoption of this strategy, Oregon is poised to be a national leader and an example for other states in harnessing the power of blue carbon ecosystems in the fight against climate change. 

This blog post was originally published by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Sylvia Troost, Alex Clayton, and Elizabeth Ruther work on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conserving marine life in the United States project.

In the Wake of IPCC Report, U.S. Nature4Climate Supports Bold Climate Action to Address Climate Change

Photo Credit: Karsten Würth

On August 9th, 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 6th report on climate change, summarizing the most up-to-date science on the impacts of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.  This report serves as a dire warning to humanity should we fail to take immediate action to reduce these emissions. We are already experiencing the consequences of climate change, with record heat, wildfires, historic drought and flooding impacting nearly every part of the United States. As the IPCC report states, these climate-related disasters will only become more common as the planet continues to warm.

According to Katharine Hayhoe, Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, “Scientists have predicted the likelihood of accelerating climate change for more than a century now – yet too often their warnings have been disregarded. My hope is that the rigor, transparency, and unprecedented urgency of this latest IPCC report will make it simply impossible to ignore.”

In order to avoid subjecting future generations to the catastrophic impacts of unabated climate change, we must pursue every mitigation strategy at our disposal. This necessarily begins with massive and sustained investment in renewable energy and carbon-free transportation. It is impossible to stop climate change without first taking action to reduce, and ultimately end, the release of immense quantities of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

The U.S. Nature4Climate coalition supports efforts to decarbonize our energy and transportation sectors and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. We also believe that America’s natural and working lands can play an important role in helping to achieve our long-term climate goals. Natural Climate Solutions are a critical compliment to economy-wide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – not a substitute for these efforts.

The science is clear – climate-smart management of America’s public lands, as well as privately owned farms, forests and ranches, can help remove millions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere. As Lucy Almond, the Chair of the Global Nature4Climate coalition states, “If we rapidly reduce emissions in line with the most ambitious IPCC pathways, natural carbon sinks and reduction of sources can do a lot to help take us the rest of the way to net zero.”

Over the past year, U.S. Nature4Climate has worked to highlight the many cross-cutting benefits of these climate-smart land management strategies. In addition to naturally removing carbon from the atmosphere, Natural Climate Solutions create jobs, enhance wildlife habitat and make our coastlines, forests, farms and cities more resilient to fire, flooding and drought. While these solutions are practical, relatively low cost, and available now, widescale adaptation will require both public and private investment in workforce development, training, technical assistance and mechanisms to incentivize action by private landowners.

My hope is that IPCC’s recent report spurs every jurisdiction, company, organization and individual to invest as much as possible in a just, equitable and comprehensive set of strategies for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Let’s get to work.

Catherine Macdonald is the North America Director of Natural Climate Solutions at The Nature Conservancy and the Chair of the USN4C Steering Committee.

The Interconnections Between Biodiversity and Climate

Photo Credit: Laurie Andrews, Jackson Hole Land Trust.

Climate change intertwined with the alarming loss of biodiversity we are tracking today represent some of the gravest challenges we face as a society.

Land trusts — which often work at the intersection of people and nature — are no strangers to these challenges. They know that climate change exacerbates risks to biodiversity and natural systems. And they know these same ecosystems play a key role in both climate adaptation and the fluctuation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Now there’s new scientific affirmations of those points.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a collaborative report on biodiversity and climate change. This work represents a hopeful step toward recognizing that only by considering climate and biodiversity as parts of the same complex problem will we be able to maximize beneficial outcomes.

In short, the report warns that actions narrowly focused to fight climate change can harm nature and vice versa. But many measures exist that can make significant positive contributions in both areas. Among the most important actions identified in the report are:

  • stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean, especially forests, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands and savannahs, along with coastal ecosystems;
  • restoring carbon- and species-rich ecosystems, especially since restoration is among the cheapest and quickest nature-based climate mitigation measures to implement;
  • increasing sustainable agricultural and forestry practices to improve the land’s capacity to adapt to climate change, enhance biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions; and
  • eliminating subsidies that support local and national activities harmful to biodiversity.

As a community, land conservationists have an opportunity and an obligation to highlight the interconnections between biodiversity and climate, along with their joint relationship with human activities and well-being. The importance of this work cannot be overstated.

If your organization is ready to use your voice to shine a light on this issue, check out the Land Trust Alliance’s new online climate communications guidance. This resource is designed to help your organization create and refine a climate change communication strategy that is right for you and your community. If you have and questions about it, please don’t hesitate to email me.

Kelly Watkinson is land and climate program manager at the Land Trust Alliance.

Originally published as a part of the Land Trust Alliance’s quarterly Re: Climate blog.

The Outdoor Industry Aspires to Become Climate Positive by 2030

Climate positive is a summit that very few companies are yet pursuing. Blazing this new trail will not be easy. Yet, if we don’t carve a new, bold path for our industry and others to follow, we will ultimately fail to protect the outdoor experience upon which our businesses and many livelihoods around the globe depend. Our customers, consumers and employees are asking this of us… Now, united around this bold new goal and commitments, the outdoor industry through the Climate Action Corps – is poised to lead by example.

The world faces an urgent climate change problem caused by human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems. The Earth has already warmed by 1 degree since the 19th century, and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Global climate experts agree: if we don’t curb emissions immediately, the results will be catastrophic for life on Earth. To avoid that, the world must cut emissions in half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 (that is, any remaining emissions are neutralized by the equivalent carbon removals).

The bottom line: Every government, business and individual must act. And we believe the outdoor industry must lead.

Climate change is already threatening the $778 billion outdoor industry and outdoor participation everywhere. Ski seasons dwindle and resorts struggle to operate profitably; warmer streams, drought and fire diminish hunting and fishing activity; and kids and families shutter indoors throughout the West as wildfire-polluted skies force cancelled camping trips and hiking excursions, or, much worse – devastate entire communities. Extreme weather-related events are also harming people and communities across the globe that often make our products, while these same events disrupt the supply chains we depend on. With so much at stake, the outdoor industry must be at the forefront of transformation and innovation toward a low-carbon economy. Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), as the North American industry’s trade association with a mission to ensure a thriving outdoor industry for generations to come, has a primary responsibility to support its members and the industry to rise to face this challenge.

The Outdoor Industry’s Opportunity To Lead

As individual companies, the choices we make – from renewable energy to power our operations, to low-carbon materials and production processes to make our products, to enabling the reuse of our gear – can have an impact. But as an industry, we can be a significant force in reversing the impacts of climate change. Our collective efforts can scale innovations, activate millions of consumers, drive policy and create a model for other sectors to follow. Our industry has a history of innovation, leading with our values, and stewarding the planet. We know that our employees and our customers are expecting us to be part of the climate solution. We also have a history of coming together to tackle hard problems.

Many outdoor companies are already taking meaningful climate action – measuring their carbon footprints, setting greenhouse gas reduction targets, and neutralizing the emissions they cannot yet reduce. But we recognize these actions by a few leaders among us is not enough. We can do better. We need to catalyze bold, widespread climate action across our industry and beyond by forging a new path. Rather than simply reducing harmful practices, we can bring forward regenerative ones. Instead of just doing “less bad,” we can create “more good” for society and the environment. We can set aggressive science-based reduction targets that we are not 100% certain how to achieve – acknowledging the “innovation gap” between what can be modeled, and what’s actually required. We can remove carbon from the atmosphere through solutions that also restore and conserve nature, increase outdoor recreation opportunities for all, and build climate-resilient communities. We can advance a just transition to the clean energy economy. In doing so, we go beyond simply decreasing our negative impact to creating positive impact.

For these reasons, OIA created the Climate Action Corps in early 2020, which has since grown to more 100 members representing more than $25 billion in annual sales revenue.

With input from our members, Board of Directors, Sustainability Advisory Council and external experts over the past year, we are excited to announce a new aspiration to become the first climate positive industry by 2030, creating a bold example for others around the world to follow. We chose an ambitious but achievable target because we are leaders in the mountains, in our R&D departments and in the marketplace, and we believe we can reach this summit by working together. To make this an achievable goal for our members, OIA is assembling resources to guide and support each step of the journey.

What Does “Climate Positive” Mean?

Global consensus is still emerging, and we have grounded our own definition of “climate positive” in work being done by climate experts and NGOs and will continue to evolve this working definition as consensus emerges.

Our working definition: Climate positive means to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions in line with a science-based target (SBT) that addresses all scopes, to remove even more GHG from the atmosphere than you emit, and to advocate for broader systemic change.

Climate scientists agree that even with aggressive reductions in emissions, carbon removal—the process of extracting carbon dioxide from the air and storing it—will be crucial to avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. We also believe climate positive brings an opportunity for our industry to promote equity and climate justice. We will continue to seek the input of experts and leaders in carbon accounting, climate science and the climate justice movement – as well as our own member companies – to ensure our approach is bold yet pragmatic, science-based, inclusive and equitable, and drives environmental, societal and business value.

With this bold goal in place and a community of 100+ outdoor companies engaged in the Corps, we are moving quickly to establish a credible, practical pathway, supporting resources, and interim milestones that will guide and accelerate progress and lead our industry to climate positive by 2030.

The Path To Climate Positive

Measure + Plan | Reduce + Remove | Advocate + Engage | Share

Climate Action Corps members commit to the following actions, with a new member requirement as of 2021 to set a science-based target that addresses all scopes within two years of joining:

Measure + Plan.

Build a company-specific action plan. Calculate your entire carbon footprint (accounting for scopes 1-3, as defined by the GHG Protocol). Base your measurements on more and more primary data over time. Set a science-based target (SBT) that addresses all scopes within two years of joining (new requirement).

Society has not yet committed sufficiently to reduce emissions, and science-based targets are the only way to ensure carbon reduction at the individual organization level happens at the pace and scale required to meet the global 1.5 degree warming limit. OIA will release new Guidebook content and training resources to help members tackle challenging “scope 3” measurement in particular, as well as resources to support science-based target setting in line with the Science Based Target Initiative criteria in 2021 (though members will not be required to set SBTi-approved targets, we encourage companies to seek this level of 3rd party validation).

Reduce + Remove.

Take immediate and ongoing action to drive down carbon emissions in line with your SBT. Compensate for remaining emissions by investing in projects with a quantifiable climate benefit (e.g., through direct investment or purchasing offsets) that ideally remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with science is a critical part of any business’s climate strategy – no matter the size or structure. The market will demand our member brands have made meaningful reductions within five years. Because most of our industry’s GHG emissions are in the supply chain, implementing reductions has a long horizon. The Climate Action Corps puts forward these guiding principles for reduction: run cleaner, transport smarter, make better, and grow creatively, and provides resources as well as hosts collaborative projects (“CoLabs”) to drive reductions in accordance with these principles. Work will expand in 2021 to support all Climate Action Corps members to be on track to meet their SBTs by 2025. Changing the methods and materials for making our industry’s products will be challenging. Success will be far more likely working together to solve problems and leverage buying power. OIA is well-positioned to facilitate this kind of collaboration between our member companies, in partnership with on-the-ground organizations and experts.

But reductions alone cannot achieve net-zero or climate positive – and science is also clear that reductions alone will not be enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees by mid-century. We also have to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. Building on its long history of land and water conservation advocacy, the outdoor industry is in a unique position to galvanize investment in nature-based carbon removals or “sinks” – forests, farms, and grasslands – that may also provide recreational benefits for our consumers and economic benefits for landowners, farmers and their communities.

As businesses progress along reduction pathways, emissions that cannot be reduced will remain. We acknowledge these difficult-to-abate emissions have a negative impact on society, the environment, and outdoor businesses – in other words, they have a cost. Therefore, we believe they should: 1) Be priced into doing business – establishing an internal price on carbon creates an incentive for businesses to drive further reductions to decrease cost, and 2) Be compensated for by removing the equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere in the transition to climate positive – nature-based carbon sequestration measures are preferred because they also have the potential to create societal co-benefits that align with outdoor industry values, from creating shade in heat-stressed urban areas to restoring forest ecosystems.

Carbon offsets, or voluntary carbon credits, provide one means to accomplish removals, provided they meet standards for high quality (see Guidebook). Yet, we go into this clear-eyed on the realities and challenges: the carbon removals market is nascent and limited today. We have an opportunity to contribute to growth, rigor and innovation in this space. It’s also important to acknowledge that offsets alone are not an appropriate carbon management strategy and should be used in addition to a science-aligned reduction target and abatement strategy. In other words, a comprehensive climate strategy includes both reducing and removing carbon. Both are challenging, but necessary.

Advocate + Engage.

Advocate for critical, systemic policy change and engage your consumers and business partners. Recognize and reward climate-leading practices with your vendors and supply chain partners.

The systemic transformation required to meet the global targets outlined by the scientific community requires action by all countries, and all levels of government. Climate Action Corps members bring a unique and powerful business voice to the climate policy landscape. OIA and its partners provide advocacy opportunities annually (op-eds, fly-ins, testimony, signons letters, etc.) that advance our climate policy priorities, which include: incentivizing businesses that take bold climate action, accelerating an equitable transition to renewable energy, advancing natural climate solutions and supporting green infrastructure like more parks and paths to build low-carbon, climate-resilient communities.

In addition, our collective millions of employees and consumers have the power through their individual actions to have a remarkable cumulative impact as both citizen advocates and in reducing their own footprints. Trusted outdoor brands can inspire, empower and even enable consumers to take action – from driving to their favorite campsites or ski areas in electric vehicles, to converting their homes to renewable energy, to making their voices heard with policymakers – among other actions.

Last but not least, in addition to driving policy solutions and engaging our consumers, Climate Action Corps members commit to recognizing and rewarding climate-leading actions with their vendors. Retailers have a critical role as “choice editors” in assorting, promoting, and otherwise showing preference toward brands that are progressing in meaningful, measurable ways – bringing more relevant products and innovations to consumers who increasingly demand them.

Share Our Progress.

We use transparency to maintain credibility and drive accountability. Every Climate Action Corps member is required to submit an Annual Progress Report each April to be posted publicly on OIA’s web site, as well as used to aggregate data to demonstrate our collective impact through our annual “Path to Climate Positive” report.

OIA Sustainability Advisory Council Members
Matt Thurston, REI (Chair)
Libby Sommer, Bolt Threads
Guru Larson, Columbia Sportswear
Danielle Cresswell, Klean Kanteen
Theresa Conn, NEMO Equipment
John Stokes, New Balance
Kim Drenner, Patagonia
JJ Trout, PeopleForBikes
Kristen Bandurski, Red Wing Shoe Co.
Alicia Chin, Smarwool
Marie Mawe, W.L. Gore
Jennifer Silberman, YETI

OIA Sustainable Business Innovation Board Committee Members
Cam Brensinger, NEMO Equipment (Chair)
Jonathan Cedar, Biolite
Alison Hill, LifeStraw
Bruce Old, Patagonia
Sean Cady, VF Corp

This statement originally appeared on